ROLE OF SKIN MICROBIOME ON AMPHIBIAN HEALTH
Recent studies have shown that microbial communities (e.g. bacteria, fungi, archea) living in association with animal hosts play a significant role in many aspects of host life history, including development, physiology, and health. Such research has been made possible by recent advances in high-throughput DNA sequencing and analysis technologies, which allow us to characterize whole communities of microbes independent of culture-based methodologies. Despite these recent developments, the basic ecological processes that govern the formation and maintenance of microbial assemblages on and within hosts remain unclear.
Amphibians are an excellent system in which to study the host-microbiome relationship. Amphibian skin serves as the main interface between organism and environment, and is responsible for maintenance of homeostasis and protection against pathogens and environmental threats. Microbial communities (reported as between 400-1800 species of bacteria alone) that live on amphibian skin appear to play a significant role in health and disease resistance, yet little is understood about the ecological and evolutionary factors governing the host-microbiome interaction. Recent studies have shown that the skin microbial community assemblage appears to be host-specific, but aspects such as evolutionary dynamics between host and microbiome, stability and temporal variation in microbial community, and the interactions between microbiome and foreign pathogens are poorly understood. Our lab has begun a series of projects addressing these questions in several terrestrial salamanders (Batrachoseps attenuatus, Ensatina eschscholtzii, Aneides lugubris) and the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae), and we hope to expand in the future as well. Stay tuned for information on our findings!